Along with a television film crew, a small crowd of curious onlookers recently gathered beside the flight line on the Daytona Beach campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Everyone wanted to see students and faculty turn on a Learjet to test the sensors developed by Sensatek Propulsion Technology.
“It was more exciting than a thesis project, working directly with commercial products and having a direct impact on the aerospace industry,” said Calvin Cai, from Seattle, Wash., Who is pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. “In the future, I will be able to tell employers that I have worked with Sensatek. It will be really cool.
One of two dozen successful companies affiliated with the university’s research park, Sensatek Propulsion Technology asked experts at Embry-Riddle to help evaluate the performance of sensors attached to the Learjet 35 and Westinghouse J34 engines, explained Mark Ricklick, associate professor of aerospace engineering.
The work served as the backdrop for a segment on Sensatek, which aired on November 20, 2021 by TV Series Advancements, via CNBC.
Put the sensors to the test
While testing of the J34 took place inside the Emil Buehler Aviation Maintenance Science building, performing the Embry-Riddle Learjet demonstration outside drew an audience and required additional safety protocols. Cai and his team of student researchers built a special test device to support the ground tests on the Learjet. They also used a stationary laboratory test cell to capture sensor performance measurements on the J34 engine.
“It’s a boost to student confidence,” Ricklick said of the project. “We try to let them interact directly with the customer or the business. I give them a sense of responsibility. The work that students do is not just busy work. It affects the success of a business. Plus, doing fun stuff, getting your hands on real engines keeps students engaged.
As Sensatek CEO Reamonn Soto and CTO Joshua McConkey explained for the television program broadcast via CNBC, the company uses radio-frequency activated sensors to track temperature changes inside turbine engines. hot gas as well as less extreme environments such as industry and diesel. motors, HVAC systems and coolers.
Being able to monitor the hottest parts of a jet engine in real time has long been a challenge, especially given the development of increasingly capable military aircraft, noted McConkey. Higher combustion temperatures improve the efficiency of the gas turbine, but all that heat can lead to hardware failures.
The Sensatek approach “helps keep track of what’s going on in flight to ensure quick adjustments that can improve safety, reliability and profitability while reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Christopher Lee, Assistant Professor of Aviation Maintenance Science. Lee partnered with Ricklick to complete the Sensatek test project.
To test sensors the size of a ladybug, the students designed a metal frame, held by a large water tank for ballast. The chassis was then placed on the Learjet, very close to the engine. A Sensatek radio frequency sensor was attached to the motor and a receiver was attached to the test set. Advanced modeling and testing was carried out to ensure the safety of people and property, especially as the Learjet faced part of Embry-Riddle’s fleet of 80 Cessna 172s.
The tests on both engines were successful.
“The Sensatek sensor was able to transmit a signal all the time while being exposed to high temperatures and speeds,” noted Ricklick.
With aviation technology continually pushing the physical limits, Sensatek technology “truly is the way of the future,” said Lee. “What [Soto] in fact, this is what aircraft manufacturers are looking for. Lee added that he plans to incorporate lessons learned from the Sensatek Project into his curriculum for students.
Including Cai, who is also an intern at research park tenant VerdeGo Aero, ongoing work with Sensatek has so far involved a total of seven students in two cohorts, Ricklick reported.
Currently, Cai’s team includes Regina Beet, Roy Fernandes and Alex Rodriguez. The former members of the student team have since graduated and started their careers. For example, after earning his doctorate, former student Anish Prasad is now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Embry-Riddle. Another graduate went to work for Lockheed Martin Corporation, while another started his own business.
The sensor testing project was typical of Embry-Riddle’s approach to advancing innovation and entrepreneurship, said Dr Stephanie Miller, executive director of Technology Transfer and Research Park Initiatives. “Sensatek is a perfect example of what we’re looking for in companies looking to join the Embry-Riddle research park,” Miller said. “Collaboration with our researchers and opportunities for our students is a major goal, and this also creates tremendous value for the company. “